Kate Dumbleton’s passion for Hyde Park Jazz Festival comes through fabulously loud and clear

By Chicago 6 Min Read

It takes more than a gathering of great musicians to make a great jazz festival. For Kate Dumbleton, the much-admired executive and artistic director of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, it takes a vision.

For her, nothing is more important than making connections with the South Side community in which it is based — with its storied music history, its sturdy traditions, and of course its musicians.

“I love this community and all it has to offer,” she said. “It means a lot to be able to give exposure to local artists who might not get it otherwise.”

In making those connections, the festival, the 17th edition of which takes place Sept. 23-24 at 14 venues across Hyde Park, has established its own special character and vibe. They owe a lot to its diversity of settings, which include the elegant auditorium of the Logan Center for the Arts, the acoustically wondrous Rockefeller Chapel, the outdoor stages on the fest’s midway and the Logan Center’s intimate penthouse performance room. More than 150 musicmakers are scheduled to perform.


Hyde Park Jazz Festival

When: Sept. 23-24

Where: 14 venues in Hyde Park; check website for locations and full schedule

Tickets: Free; $10 suggested donation per person

Info: hydeparkjazzfestival.org

“With all these different cultural spaces, we got more people to see what’s going on,” said Dumbleton.

Increasingly, the festival has moved out of the giant shadow cast by the deeper-pocketed Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennium Park — no easy achievement, considering the CJF takes place a scant few weeks before the Hyde Park event. 

When Dumbleton became the fest’s director in 2012, she said, she wanted to stay committed to what its founders had done with their largely straight-ahead lineups.

“But I also wanted to expand the conversation to a broader range of artists and to more venues to illuminate and heighten all the great things that were happening on the South Side,” she said.

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival was started by the Hyde Park Jazz Society in 2006, the year Dumbleton moved to Chicago from San Francisco, where she owned and operated a performance and exhibition space and wine bar. She came here to pursue a degree in arts administration and cultural policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where she is currently Assistant Professor of Arts Administration and Policy). 

She brought with her a keen interest in the music history of the South Side and the DIY workings of its venerated Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Among other things, the AACM’s founding members had turned storefronts, churches and people’s apartments into performance spaces when mainstream venues were not available to them.

After settling in town, Dumbleton also schooled herself on the North Side movement known as Umbrella Music, a consortium of musician-presenters including Ken Vandermark, Josh Berman and Dave Rempis as well as the influential presenter/critic/SAIC lecturer John Corbett.

“I loved their scrappiness, their insights into how to build a scene,” Dumbleton said, referring to their ongoing series at clubs including the Hungry Brain, the Hideout and Elastic. “I loved their DIY energy.” 

They have more than returned those feelings.

“Kate is a remarkable curator, director and organizer because she has an implicit understanding of what artists need to get their work done,” said Rempis, who recently stepped down after two decades of running the Elastic Arts organization and its Improvised Music series.

“That’s because she actually hangs out with them. And because she actually loves the work on a deeply personal level.” 

Before taking the reins of the Hyde Park festival, Dumbleton was executive director of the late and lamented Chicago Jazz Ensemble, doing all she could to keep it afloat during financially difficult times. After joining the HPJF, she lifted it out of a state of uncertainty by establishing it as its own entity, out from under the auspices of the Hyde Park Jazz Society. Building a board of directors, she said, “was like building a car while you’re driving it.” 

Said Rempis, “Kate is one of the only people I’ve ever met who can translate that world [of the arts] into the institutional world of organizations, foundations and funders by encouraging, advocating, cajoling, or outright twisting arms if need be, to make sure that institutions actually support artists’ needs.”

This year’s exceptional lineup includes East Coast NEA Jazz Masters Louis Hayes and Kenny Barron. But most of its spotlight will shine on nationally recognized Chicago artists including trumpeters Josh Berman and Ben LaMar Gay, saluting the recently deceased Jaimie Branch, and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz performing works by AACM legend Roscoe Mitchell.

When Chicago native Nicole Mitchell, jazz’s top flutist, premieres her new work, “South Side Love Letter,” she’ll be playing what Dumbleton and most everyone else at the fest will be feeling. 

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